USC’s Norman Topping Student Aid Fund Fiasco: Listen to the Students!

While I am not a USC graduate, I pride myself in sharing that I will one day be a Trojan. In different occasions, I have used this platform to highlight the university’s work in recruiting and investing in talented students from their local communities, such as the Neighborhood Academic Initiative, as there is much value in seeing quality private schools demonstrate a commitment to students from under resourced communities. Unfortunately, a recent decision by USC Senior Administration to terminate the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund (NTSAF) Director Position is now putting into question how committed USC truly is to the communities it serves, and quite frankly, its understanding of its neighborhood needs, much of which are low-income and under resourced.

The Norman Topping Student Aid Fund is a source of great pride for USC. It was launched in  1970 and was among the first student-initiated, student-funded, and primarily student-administered scholarship funds. The fund came about as a direct result from student protest of the homogenous USC student body. Over the years, the NTSAF has helped scores of underrepresented, low-income and first-generation students attend and thrive at USC. Local community applicants and first-generation college students are the target population. The NTSAF has also served as a retention program for students with high financial needs who have demonstrated a high level of community awareness, often in spite of extraordinary circumstances. It provides a community for scholars who receive mentoring, special programming, and advising – all aimed at supporting academic success.

According to a memorandum shared by the Vice Provost for Academic and Faculty Affairs to the USC community, “Since the Topping Fund traditionally has only been offered to a small number of students each year, [they] are seeking to increase this opportunity to more of [their] students… A recent reorganization of the oversight of the Topping Fund within the Office of Undergraduate Programs more closely aligns it to the mission and core values of the university. [They] are strongly committed to creating a more diverse and inclusive campus.” As a result of their “commitment” to creating a more diverse and inclusive campus, USC Senior Administration decided to cut one of the positions most critical to the NTSAF’s success: its director position, a role that Christina Yokoyama has occupied for the last eleven years.

To be clear, I do not personally know Christina. I did, however, do my due diligence in reaching out to my network to learn more about her role and the university’s drastic decision to eliminate such a vital position. To my surprise, the decision was not only made without Christina’s prior knowledge but also with total disregard for the student led NTSAF Governing Board. As a reminder, the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund is one of the only student initiated, student-funded, primarily student-administered scholarships in the nation — shouldn’t students have a say before taking such drastic action? From a conversation with a close friend, I learned that Christina’s role was not only essential as she provided program design and vision, but also because of her focus on forging strong relationships with her students. For Erica Silva, a former Topping Outreach Coordinator, Christina’s support, mentorship and guidance has been invaluable. The Williams Governing Board letter of support for Christina only solidified my impressions of her. Governing Board Chair Sierra Williams in her letter stated that, “Christina has created an open and welcoming environment conducive to the academic, professional, and personal success for which all scholars are striving. Her presence is essential in ensuring that new scholars have the resources they need to successfully navigate USC.” Additionally,  Topping alumnus Marilyn Rodriguez (USC ‘17) stated that, “as a former transfer commuter student to USC, I gained and experienced the true definition of what the Trojan family was by becoming a NTSAF scholar. Through the guidance of the director, I was able to not just perform well academically, but I gained a better understanding of my community, self, and found mentors. The NTSAF family builds each other up and is always equipped with resilience to overcome any obstacles.”

It is disappointing to have to watch the USC Administration deliberately take over a historically significant fund. In essence, the administration’s lack of understanding to what the NTSAF director role and impact entails only highlights its disconnect to the students the fund has supported over the years. The former Vice Provost for Undergraduate Programs, Dr. Gene Bickers and Dr. George Sanchez, the former Vice Dean for Diversity and Strategic Initiatives for USC Dornsife, released a strongly worded letter of support of the students in reversing the decision, and requested an apology to the students and current director. Additionally, former Governing Board chairs released a letter outlining the purpose and intention of the NTSAF and have asked that USC Senior Administration to “operate with the same sense of integrity” to protect the Fund.

So what can you do?

To show your support of the NTSAF, the existence of the historical Program Director position and Christina Yokoyama as Director, we ask that you write to USC Provost Michael Quick to make your voice heard. Send your letter directly to USC Provost Michael Quick ([email protected]) by Friday 1/12. Please cc: [email protected] and [email protected].

In the same way that students came together forty-seven years ago to lead the efforts to bring about systemic change and provide access to underrepresented, low-income and first-generation students through the establishment of NTSAF, we need YOU to help us save the integrity of this fund.

Read and follow USC Daily Trojan coverage here.

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Alma Renteria

Alma Renteria

Alma-Delia Renteria is a proud product of Lynwood schools. As a student in Lynwood, Alma was very involved which developed in her a passion for community outreach and education. After graduating UC Riverside, with a B.A. in English and a year earlier than anticipated, she decided to make her “4th year” of college a year of giving back by joining the national non-profit City Year. While at City Year Los Angeles, Alma built a strong network of education advocates which encouraged her to apply and join the prestigious Teach For America program. Upon joining TFA, Alma began her education career as a middle school teacher in Downtown Los Angeles. It was while teaching that she realized the need to do her part to help serve the community she grew up in. Alma was elected to the Lynwood School Board in 2013, where she made college accessibility/readiness a main priority. Alma completed her Master’s degree in Urban Education at Loyola Marymount University and is currently serving her second term as Board President for the Lynwood Unified School District. She also serves as a Digital Learning Instructional Coach at a dual immersion school in Pico Rivera.

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